September 15, 2016 — "As the Hyde Amendment turns 40 this month, activists and legislators are seeking to permanently end the prohibition on federal funds from covering abortion care," columnist Katie Klabusich writes for Truthout.
According to Klabusich, "the Hyde Amendment has been added to every federal budget since 1976 and signed into law by every president regardless of party." The amendment not only bans almost all abortion care for women covered through Medicaid, but also for those covered through "TRICARE, which serves active duty military personnel, retired personnel and their families; all federal employees; residents of the District of Columbia; Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) enrollees; those serving time in federal prison; members of the Peace Corps; and the clinics that are part of [t]he Indian Health Service (IHS)."
Citing data from the Guttmacher Institute, Klabusich writes that "between 18 percent and 35 percent of people insured by the federal Medicaid program who have experienced an [unintended] pregnancy have been forced against their will to carry that pregnancy to term under Hyde."
She adds that because of the make-up of people covered through Medicaid and other Hyde-affected programs, "low-income people of color are disproportionately affected by" the amendment, meaning that people "who are already discriminated against have shouldered the burden of being the political tradeoff, even during a time of health insurance access expansion." Klabusich adds, "Twenty-five states prohibit abortion coverage on their health insurance marketplaces beyond the limited cases of rape, incest and life endangerment."
Strategies for ending abortion-coverage bans
Klabusich discusses the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH) Woman Act (HR 2972). The bill -- proposed by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), with the help of All* Above All, a coalition working to end bans on abortion coverage -- aims to end Hyde. The bill, which has 120 co-sponsors in addition to Lee and Schakowsky, still lacks the support needed to pass, according to Lee.
Calling for "a coalition to end Hyde," Lee said, "The American people are broadly in support of ending this discriminatory practice that disproportionately hurts [low-income] women, students and women of color. Eighty-six percent of Americans agree that politicians shouldn't be able to deny women health coverage because (they're) [low income]. These Americans need to continue raising their voices and demanding an end to this injustice. Through the power of grassroots action and advocacy, we will get this amendment off the books."
Klabusich notes that the new president could technically end Hyde by including in the presidential budget proposal "a hard line that any congressional budget resolution with Hyde-like language attached would be returned." However, she writes that while "[t]his approach would be effective immediately," absent a potential government shutdown by conservative lawmakers, "it would not ensure protections beyond that president's tenure or will to have such a fight with Congress on an annual basis." Nonetheless, it would "be one of the first opportunities to tackle the issue" and "would not preclude supporting more lasting legislation."
According to Klabusich, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton announced her opposition to Hyde in a historic move this January, but her campaign has not said how she will implement her approach.
Municipal efforts to repeal abortion-coverage bans
Klabusich also highlights local efforts to end bans on abortion coverage. For example, she notes that the city council of Ithaca, New York, joined several other localities around the United States last week when it "passed a resolution calling on Congress and President Obama to enact the EACH Woman Act to repeal current and prohibit future insurance bans on abortion coverage -- including those funded by federal dollars." According to Klabusich, other localities that have voiced support for the EACH Woman Act include "Cook County, Illinois; Cambridge, Massachusetts; New York, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Travis County, Texas; Seattle, Washington; and Madison, Wisconsin."
However, she cites Guttmacher Institute data that shows "only 17 states buck the national trend of only paying for abortion in cases of life endangerment, rape and incest," 13 of which are only doing so because of court orders. Klabusich writes, "Because so few municipalities and state legislatures have been willing to be bold on abortion care, every governmental group that passes proactive laws or resolutions is an important standout. As history has proven on other issues over the years, building political will to match high voter support is a challenge for advocates of all types -- a challenge made easier when legislators see their colleagues taking action."
Klabusich quotes Destiny Lopez, co-director of All* Above All, who said, "This is a movement that's bigger than politics or any one election -- and that means building an ecosystem of social change." She added, "We need a bold policy agenda and champions willing to carry it forward; we need organizing at the local and state level; we need innovative and culturally-competent campaigns to transform the way we think and talk about abortion. The good news is all of these pieces are coming together, and our collective unity and strength are greater than ever before."
Keeping abortion access front-of-mind during the election
"Awareness about Hyde and other abortion restrictions is growing, thanks in part to extreme rhetoric against abortion from candidates during this and the past few election cycles, and now is the time to offer voters alternatives to support," Klabusich writes.
She continues, "Activists continue to focus on awareness through campaigns, storytelling, and going hard at legislators and candidates who don't vocally support abortion access." Klabusich again quotes Lopez, who explained that one of the "biggest hurdles is that many people still don't know how deeply abortion coverage bans are harming women and communities," which means that "the first step is to spread the word." Lopez also stressed the need for vigilance, noting that for every advance in reproductive rights, "there will always be those who try to reverse progress and undo our good work."
Further, Lopez noted that advocacy efforts should not be limited to the White House and highlighted the role of women of color in advancing reproductive rights. "It is my ardent hope that all our elected officials -- from the White House to the school board -- seek and listen to the advice of women of color leading social justice movements across this country," Lopez said. She added, "As we wrestle with issues of economic, gender and racial justice in particular, the perspectives and leadership of women of color must be at the center of our policymaking. Women of color are leading the movement to end the Hyde Amendment and we are prepared to work with our leaders to build a brighter future" (Klabusich, Truthout, 9/14).